There ain't no cure for the boogie-board blues

INSIDE THE ENGLAND CAMP
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The Independent Online
You know what it's like taking a flight anywhere. The interminable wait in the passenger lounge, having scoured all the duty free, then you finally get the call to board your plane only to find yourself sitting on it waiting still longer for take-off.

That is exactly what we are going through here in South Africa. The nine days between arriving here in Durban and our first game against Argentina is like a prison sentence. However, we cannot complain about the prison. Durban is warm, 25 degrees under cloudless skies, with the Indian Ocean not so much lapping as crashing on to beautiful clean beaches.

Leisure time is filled with swimming and "boogie-boarding" in the surf, volleyball and frisbee-throwing on the beach, golf, films, reading and playing my saxophone. Basically, anything that makes the time pass quicker before and between games.

I guess this element of spare time is something which most people do not fully grasp. They assume that you are out training all hours of the day and when you are not you are ensconced in a meeting room poring over videos of the opposition and talking tactics. Fortunately not. A balance has to be struck so that your body gets the rest it needs as well as your mind. This does lead to a sizeable amount of dead time filled up by the activities listed above.

However, a ban has been imposed on us doing anything in the sun on Friday and Saturday leading up to the Argentina game. Thank heaven I at least have this article to write to relieve the tedium before I bore my room- mate, Jonathan Callard, with another impersonation of Kenny G.

The training itself has been keen. Each player is determined to make an impression, especially as Jack Rowell has made it clear that not everyone will get a game in this tournament.

Focus in the forwards has been on developing the mauling game we used so well this year and in the backs on grooming strike moves as well as striving to improve our running lines, which has been one of our downfalls and the main reason why we have not done so well with the ball our forwards have produced. With better running lines we are able to commit defenders, thereby allowing more space for the runners out wide to exploit.

The sessions have been quite long, anything up to two and a half hours. However, a lot of this time is made up of warming up and cooling down as well as the "six pack". This is a series of sit-up exercises in an attempt to turn our two-litre-bottle stomach muscles into something resembling a six-can pack.

The first week demands great attendances, thereafter numbers start to dwindle to those who already have that washboard stomach.

New to our sessions has been a greater emphasis in the backs on our kicking skills. One need only watch the World Cup opener between Australia and South Africa to see how important a tactical tool kicking has become. Without wishing to sound too simplistic a rugged, well-organised defence and the boot of Andre Joubert formed the basis of South Africa's game plan.

Now the backs go around saying things like "Eleven and one" and "Through the gate" to each other which represent mental images of the perfect kick. Look forward to some raking touch-finders!

With regard to Thursday's game I hope you are able to get some semblance of feel for the fever that has gripped South Africa. There was some concern that this might be too oppressive for their team but their performance was nothing short of inspirational, fired on by some fanatical support. It was an epic game and has shown those watching the levels of commitment mixed with courage, power and pace needed to succeed.

Thankfully the wait is over for us and we can at last take the field and set out our stall. All eyes will be on us to put in the convincing performance worthy of our title as pretenders to the crown of world champions.

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